Audience “Feeds Fire” at Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Tour Opening Concert

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News assistant editor

  • 21 June 2018

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square kicked off their 2018 tour on June 19, 2018, at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, California. Photo courtesy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

For Dr. John A. Romeri, standing in front of a talented choir with a conducting baton in hand is not much different than Tom Brady dropping back to throw a football—it’s just what he does.

As the director of music and organists for the Christ Cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Orange California, Romeri has enjoyed a celebrated musical career. He leads choirs, tours, and releases albums.

But Tuesday was far from typical.

Romeri performed as the guest conductor for one number during the opening concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2018 Classic Coast Tour at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, California. Leading the choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square in “This Land Is Your Land” during an encore at Tuesday’s concert was, he said, “an out-of-body experience; just such a treat.“

He called the choir “an amazing icon of Americana” that doubles as a choir reference point for all others. Romeri often asks his own choirs, “What would the Mormon Tabernacle Choir do?”

The guest conductor said his friend and colleague, Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg, told him prior to the Costa Mesa concert to just have fun—“and I really did.”

Guest conductor Dr. John Romeri leads the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square in a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” during an encore at the June 19, 2018, concert in Costa Mesa, California. Romeri is the director of music and organists for the Christ Cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Orange California. Photo courtesy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Tuesday’s concert in Southern California was the first of seven West Coast tour stops. Upcoming destinations include Los Angeles, Berkeley, Seattle, and Vancouver, Canada.

A variety of selections highlighted Tuesday’s Costa Mesa set list—including selections from the American songbook such as the “Battle of Jericho”; sacred songs, both contemporary and from the 19th century; and, of course, signature hymns such as “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“I had friends I’ve known for years at last night’s concert, and they were blown away,” said choir member Richard Bigler.

Bigler knows his way around Orange County. He and his family lived in the area for several years before taking his optometry practice to northern Utah.

Music director Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square on June 19, 2018, during the opening tour concert in Costa Mesa, California. Photo courtesy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Given his local connections, he circled the Costa Mesa concert long before embarking on the tour. He wasn’t disappointed. The choir and orchestra, he said, made immediate connections with the audience that carried them through the evening.

“It was a great concert. … When you can tell that the audience is enjoying what you are doing, it just feeds the fire,” he said.

His fellow choir member Joanne Andrus enjoys an ancestral choir connection to the Golden State that belongs in a Hollywood script.

Her great-grandparents Joseph and Ida May Anderson met in 1902 while traveling across California as part of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir tour. Ida had found a lost wedding ring in a train depot. As she turned to return the ring to the depot office she bumped into Joseph. They began talking about many things as they traveled—and by the time the choir reached San Francisco they had fallen in love.

“It was a tour romance,” said Andrus.

The Andersons later married and raised their family in Utah’s Cache Valley, faithfully serving in the Church and in their community.

Several of Andrus’s relatives were in the audience for Tuesday’s concert. “It was an amazing way to start the tour,” she said. “Costa Mesa definitely set the stage for the rest of the tour.”

Orchestra at Temple Square musicians perform June 19, 2018, at the tour-opening concert in Costa Mesa, California. Photo courtesy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir members perform an animated selection during the June 19, 2018, opening tour concert in Costa Mesa, California. Photo courtesy of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.